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How to Talk to Other Parents About Their Child: New Rules for the Digital Age

What happens when one of your kid's friends is doing something inappropriate with social media or the Internet? Having that "uncomfortable conversation" may not be fun, but looking out for each others' kids is good for all of us as parents.

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Digital Citizenship, Digital Citizenship for Kids, Teaching Digital Citizenship, Mentorship, kids and technology

Digital Citizenship for Kids Starts with Mentorship

Like it or not, your kids’ world is a Digital World. But just because they can operate the devices doesn’t mean that they are prepared for success. Let’s remove some of the misconceptions about kids and technology, and make a commitment to mentorship around the issues of digital citizenship.

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Mentorship, Digital Citizenship, Digital Citizenship for Kids, Teaching Digital Citizenship, kids and technology, mentoring, mentors

The Mentorship Manifesto

The Mentorship Manifesto is a declaration of our responsibility to teaching digital citizenship to our kids. As parents, teachers, school leaders, or administrators, mentorship is the single most important commitment we can make to our kids.

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conflict resolution, mentorship, digital devices, texting, text messaging, social media, kids and technology, kids and social media, tweens and technology, tweens and social media, bullying, social media conflicts, social media conflict resolution

Conflict Resolution for Digital Natives

Kids deal with small conflicts every day - it’s part of growing up. But for today’s “always-on” digital natives, there are additional layers of complexity. Constant connectivity complicates their social sphere. Here’s how you can be a good mentor and teach conflict resolution to your own digital natives.

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Technology as a Distraction: Raising Kids in the Digital Age

Distraction is a real issue with kids and tech. Having a plan can help mitigate the shortcomings of tech and help your kids find balance.

When I speak at schools in communities across the country, parents approach me with their concerns. In every community, technology as a distraction comes up as one of the most frequent—and urgent—issues that worry parents.

Recent data from iKeepSafe suggest that parents are right to be concerned, with 28% of teens reporting that their digital engagement interferes with schoolwork. Even outside the classroom, 44% of tweens admit that their digital pursuits take them away from other things they are doing, and 17% of tweens say that their digital engagement causes problems in relationships with friends and family.

teens and smartphones
Click here for rest of the iKeepSafe study.

 

 

Internet distraction
Click here for rest of the iKeepSafe study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adults are hardly exempt from the distraction issue (myself included!), with 14% of adults acknowledging that they need to spend less time with technology. If this issue is challenging for adults, imagine how difficult it is for kids. Teens and tweens are in need of mentorship to help them navigate these challenges. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t ready to unplug completely as our digital engagement bring about significant advantages. We shouldn’t expect that our kids are, either. Let’s look at the issue more deeply.

This data is helpful as it breaks down some different scenarios for distraction/disruption. One of the biggest reveals, later in the study is how much teens and tweens online engagement can interfere with sleep. The is a huge issue, and can masquerade as distraction, as focus is difficult to achieve when you are exhausted! 


Internet Safety

teens and digital distraction

Two Tech Attitudes – Which One Are You?

As I describe in Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, the research on kids and distraction falls into two broad categories: The Optimists and The Cautionists.

  • The Optimists. Techno-optimists believe our minds are getting stronger because of digital technology. Freed from having to remember a ton of facts, we can create and link ideas together in new and interesting ways. Cathy Davidson argues that “monotasking” is not compatible with how our brains work.
  • The Cautionists. Techno-cautionists believe we are all in “The Shallows,” skimming and scanning and not truly reading. Indeed, before we all jump into eTextbooks, we should look at some of the evidence that format matters.

While there’s more research to be done, there are studies like this one that suggest that we retain information better when it’s in paper form rather than digital form. One question to keep in mind: Is this true only for people who already have a history of learning from paper texts? Or are there properties of printed text that affect memory—such as the physicality of turning a page and knowing where you are in a book? And how is this different for digital natives—our kids?

Annie Murphy Paul says (in research summarized in Slate in 2013) that groups of college students doing important homework checked their phones quite frequently. We seek out breaks in our work and the mental work of toggling back and forth is where we risk sacrificing our best abilities. It seems like only a few seconds of interruption, but it takes us a while to re-engage and get back into the flow. This “dislocation” is a problem as we may get fatigued from the effort of repeatedly bringing ours minds back to a task. Thus, one hour of homework can take 2-3 hours, yet be more exhausting—but the effort is not from the work itself, but the work of constantly re-focusing.

What this may suggest, is that for major work (a longer paper or a serious assignment), your teen or tween student should print out her drafts and proofread them on paper. Editing on paper may be better for many of us. Paperless sounds great and is very ecologically desirable, but many of us need to proofread our most important work on paper. Let’s dive a little deeper into parents’ biggest concern about distraction—homework.

Homework and Distraction

Does this scene sound familiar? Your child goes up to her room to complete her homework—perhaps on a school-issued iPad. Three hours later, she isn’t finished. Was she perhaps iChatting or Facetiming with her friends? Perhaps it started out about the homework, but then she got pulled into other topics. Was she listening to music and “had” to make a new playlist? Did she get distracted by someone’s post on Instagram and feel she was missing out on a social “hangout” that very instant? Or was she just “old school” daydreaming and not focusing?

Most kids in elementary and middle school shouldn’t have 3-4 hours of homework. The homework epidemic is a topic for a whole different book, but do check with your child’s teacher for guidelines about how much time they expect homework to take. If it’s taking way too long (or not long enough), it could be an indicator that there’s an underlying problem.

Many kids need to unplug for homework. Again, check with your child’s teacher. Not all homework requires online time, so offline time (or even turning off your home wifi) during “home study hall” could be an amazingly effective tactic. Imagine the conversations with your spouse and the dishes that would get done if you couldn’t check your email right after dinner!

What You Can Do to Help Your Kids

If you observe that your children are struggling with distractions when completing homework on a tablet or laptop, collaborate with your kids to figure out how to tame the distractions. Here are some strategies—find which ones are best for your family:

  • No double screening. Many students I’ve spoken to say their parents have rules about no double screening, but it can be a huge help. Though it requires some will power, put the other device away. Even if homework requires a tablet, for instance—stick to one device so you can focus.
  • Use tech to fight tech. Some kids will appreciate and enjoy “distraction blockers” like Leechblock and Freedom. While this won’t solve the problem on its own, it can help! As I type this post, I am blocking social media myself. My friends’ babies are cute and breaking news is exciting, but I need to focus.
  • Turn off the tech. Many parents find that simply turning off their home wifi really helps kids get their work done. Again, the Internet and connectivity is only a small part of most kids’ homework. Sure, they may be expected to be in an interactive space with classmates to post a comment, but that is likely only a tiny portion of their homework. Even a blog post as an assignment can be written offline and posted later.
  • Start unplugged to get plugged. If your kids say, “but I need to (collaborate with my friends, be online, use the Internet, etc.) to do my homework,” have them complete all the non-Internet homework first and then have them do the plugged-in homework. Impose a time limit or be present yourself so that they know that they need to finish.
  • Show your struggles too. Lastly, be open with your kids about your own experiences of distraction. Tell them your struggles—how it can be a drain on your productivity at work or that it feels tough to keep up with sometimes. Knowing this can be very helpful to them and make them feel like their own struggles are not “abnormal.”

Hope that you find these suggestions to be helpful. Our devices add a lot to our lives—both positive and negative. Digital Citizenship is about learning how to harness the positives and minimize the negatives. Distraction is not just about the devices, but how we use them. If you can get at the root cause of distraction, you will be in a much better position to mentor your kids on to fight through it and get their homework done!

Please share your most positive experiences with navigating distraction and any challenges in the comments!  Do you have any best practices to share?

 

Devorah Heitner, PhD is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World and the founder of Raising Digital Natives a resource for schools and families wishing to cultivate a climate of digital citizenship.

PS: Would you like informative posts like this in your inbox? Along with occasional updates and offers from Raising Digital Natives? Sign up here!

How Teens and Tweens are Using Social Media: It May Surprise You

Social media comes in a variety of forms, but the goal is the largely the same for kids. It serves as a “third space” for teens and tweens—an additional place outside of home and school. It’s a place where young people can “hang out,” even when they are not with their friends.

Most grownups think of social media as Facebook and Twitter. While those are the most popular ones worldwide, they may not be the ones that your kids favor. For instance, Facebook has fallen out of favor with many (though not all) younger kids because to them, it’s “for old people.” Think back to when you were a kid. You didn’t want to hang out where your parents hung out—it wasn’t cool.

There are literally hundreds of different social media platforms, and the goal is usually one of three things: To chat, share, or play. Some platforms do more than one thing. Here are some of the most popular examples:

  1. Chat: Kik, WhatsApp, Yik Yak, Streetchat, Snapchat
  2. Share:
    1. Posts—Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook
    2. Pictures—Snapchat, Instagram
    3. Videos—Keek, Vine
  3. Play: Minecraft, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush

How can you keep up with all of them? Well, you don’t really have to—you just need to know which site(s) your child is using. Then you can learn a little bit about the platform, how your child is using it, and with whom they are connecting.

In my experience working with parents, this is a big worry for them. They fear that kids will be talking to strangers, making themselves vulnerable to predators. The reality is that while kids may use services such as Omegle to talk to strangers, they are predominantly interested in interacting with other kids they already know. To them, social media feels like a peer space. They don’t want to be talking to adults—they want to extend and enhance the time they spend with the friends they already have.

Even though they are communicating mostly with their peers, kids can sometimes lack a full understanding of the scope of their social sphere. They sometimes share things intended for a few of their friends and forget that their parents (or even a wider peer group) might see what they’ve shared. It helps to gently remind them from time to time—that you saw one of their posts, for instance. You might use it to open a discussion about who else might have seen a text message. Or what has happened to you when you’ve sent a text to someone in error. This is not to scare them, but to just be a little more aware of the effects of unintended communication.

Young teens’ and tweens’ identities are in flux, so they are especially attracted to the social media photo communication applications like Snapchat. They get the chance to test out personae. The backside of this is that sharing photos can lead to surface judgments and virtual beauty contests. These challenges exist in the real world too, but social media can depersonalize it and encourage kids to take things out of context. It’s important to teach young people how to manage these “new” challenges.

Despite all of these challenges, social media can be important to the development of your kids’ social skills. Learning social norms and appropriate behavior is difficult for kids—even in the real world. The help you offer to them is no different, despite the medium. Here are some of suggestions for Helping Kids Manage the New Rules of Digital Etiquette.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I favor mentorship over monitoring—and using empathy as the keystone of your strategy. Here are some other resources to help you with each:

In addition to needing peer hangout time,  kids do crave spaces  to think about the role of social media in their lives. I just published a new curriculum, co-authored with Karen Jacobson, full of challenging and fun activities to help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing challenges of the digital world. While it’s pitched towards teachers and group leaders, parents could get a lot out of it too. It’s called Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids. (You can buy the curriculum here.I’ve been leading workshops with these exercises at schools around the country. Students have responded very enthusiastically!

Young people really crave opportunities to discuss these issues…Let them lead, but ask them about the latest app, or something they’ve seen their peers do in social media, and give them a chance to reflect. You’ll both learn so much!

PS: Would you like informative posts like this in your inbox? Along with occasional updates and offers from Raising Digital Natives? Sign up here!

Exclusion in the Instagram Age: How Can They be Having Such a Great Time Without Me?

Instagram and Exclusion

I just wrapped up working with a great group of 7th and 8th graders and wanted to share their ideas so that you can use them with kids (and adults) that you know!

If you ask a group of kids if they ever felt left out when they see images or videos posted in apps like Instagram, Vine or Snapchat, they will have a lot to say. Each of these apps can include images and videos of groups of other friends that may not include the viewer.

When I posed this question to this group, the middle schoolers all said that this happens all the time—and can be hard to deal with. They all agreed that it is better not to lie or make excuses if you are busy with one group of friends and another friend wants to hang out. Better to say, “I have plans” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” and then share images of yourself at spending time with other friends.

I asked them if they think kids post images with the intention of making others feel excluded. Most of the kids were reluctant to admit it—they’ve been on both sides of this issue. One boy suggested that other kids post pictures in the moment without really thinking about it.

One girl said that even if she is invited but can’t go, “I can feel pretty jealous and even mad that I am not there. How can they be having such a great time without me?” Ouch. This is a great insight into the complicated digital lives of today’s kids.

One student described the experience of vicariously experiencing a pool party that included many people in her class. As an alternative to watching the pictures roll in and feeling terrible, she invited two other friends—who had also been left out—to her house. They watched movies and did some baking. Good strategy!

Working with my Connecting Wisely Curriculum, I challenged students to come up with some strategies for this scenario: You are looking at your phone and see Instagram pictures of your friends or acquaintances hanging out without you—or a party you weren’t invited to. These were some of their suggestions:

  1. Watch some Netflix
  2. Eat some ice cream
  3. Call some other friends to invite them over
  4. Don’t watch—put away your phone!
  5. Exercise
  6. Hang out with your family

They were able to admit that if they had other friends over, it might be tempting to take and share pictures. When I asked why she would share pictures at all, one girl said that she wants to “show that she has a life outside of school.” Another kid said, “it is fun to share when you are doing fun things.” Other kids pointed out that social media is a way to mark the moment and preserve memories.

Putting away your phone is a great idea. Making a choice not to ruminate over your exclusion is a huge step towards empowerment!

I asked the kids, “do you think people just shouldn’t share images of events that exclude people,” and they all said, “NO! people have a right to share.” One girl clarified that, “one is OK, two is a bit much, and three or more pics from the same event starts to be obnoxious.”

As always, kids have great insight and come up with creative solutions. With a little mentorship from parents, teachers, and other group leaders, kids will help co-create the new guiding principles of social media etiquette.


These exercises above (and more!) are in my new curriculum guide that I co-authored with Karen Jacobson. It’s full of challenging and fun activities to help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing issues of the digital world. While it’s pitched towards teachers and group leaders, parents could get a lot out of it too. It’s called Connecting Wisely & Well in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids, and you can find it here.

 

PS: Would you like informative posts like this in your inbox? Along with occasional updates and offers from Raising Digital Natives? Sign up here!

Instead of Worrying About Sexting, Parents Should Be Thinking About Empathy

Channel Two News called me recently to ask about how families can help their kids navigate the word of smart phones and constant connectivity. I had a great conversation with Erin Kennedy in my office, and the crew also filmed one of my parent talks at a school. Additionally, they interviewed a lovely family with three teens about their experiences.

My biggest message was that parents should supporting their kids with empathy and mentorship and nurturing kind and thoughtful interactions digitally and in person.

You can watch the full segment here:

Everyone Makes Mistakes: Teaching Kids How to Fix Things When Texting Goes Awry

Instagram, texting, kids and cellphones, tweens and smartphones, friendshipAs parents or teachers we can get too focused on PREVENTING digital mistakes that can ruin friendships and reputations. We need to offer mentorship to our kids on how to repair things (when possible). We can model this in our own social media lives.

Kids need to see that relationships are complex, even for adults. It’s important for them to see how to manage a mistake—with honesty, empathy, and patience.

We can’t make them feel like a digital mistake is ever a good reason to end their own lives. We must stop catastrophizing and focus on repair.

To read the full article, When Texting Goes Wrong: Helping Kids Repair and Resolve Issues on A Platform for Good, click here.

Image by Kelly Hogaboom.

New Year’s Tech-Resolutions

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Happy New Year (and Back to School) from Raising Digital Natives

Back to school is a great time to make those tech-resolutions for a more balanced, more empathic, more thoughtful use of technology in the coming year.

Now…that sounds great. But I’ve been locked in my home with my child for 48 hours during an “arctic event.” We have plastic over the windows, but it is still cold, even inside.  It is about as cold as Mars out there.  Many tech-resolutions have been made…and then broken as the rooms of our house start to seem smaller and smaller.

One highlight of our cabin-fever day–made possible by technology–was a google hangout conversation with the my parents where my son and his grandfather read to each other from The Lorax. Some of our other tech-time was a little less inspiring…but that’s another story.

Nothing like 40 below with the wind chill to bring on a lot more digital engagement than we might otherwise choose.  If you are lucky enough to be in a location where it is warm enough for your kids to head back to school today, then try to grab a moment to jot down a quick list of your 2014 tech-intentions for your family.

To get you started…

Here are some quick ideas to help integrate/regulate/domesticate the new tech devices that may have entered your home during the holidays. Now that the boxes are in the recycling bin, the first question you may have is, should this go to school?

If your child is the proud owner of a new smartphone, iPod Touch, gaming device or tablet, this is an important question. Find out what the school’s rules are and what is allowed by your child’s teacher. If the device is supposed to be contained all day in a locker, it may be easier and safer to leave it at home. Even if you don’t agree with restrictions at your child’s school, don’t encourage your kids to be sneaky. Get them to think with you about why the rules are in place and what the alternatives could look like.

Settings

Now that you’ve had this new item for a little while, you may want to be sure the settings are appropriate for your child’s age. For an iPod touch: go to settings, then general, then restrictions. You will make up a passcode and from there you can turn off apps you don’t want your child to have access to. You may want to turn off the ability to install and delete apps as well. You can also turn off “in-app purchases” so your little gamer doesn’t spend your mortgage on gold coins. You may want to replace Safari with a kid’s browser as well (AVG and McGruff are two free ones.)

For those using iPads or other Apple products, you may not want to share an Apple ID with your child— unless you also want your child getting your messages and calendar updates. Think carefully! Android tablets have some nice kid safe modes that will work for younger kids and completely annoy older kids.

What to do with older kids?

Talk early and often! Ask them what they are doing and with whom. Have them show you examples of social media profiles that they think are cool, and others that they think are tasteless or gross. The more they can articulate about their standards, the more you’ll know where they need mentorship. Opening up the conversation is the most important step you can take to help them navigate this terrain. Consider keeping smartphones in adult bedrooms overnight (especially for middle schoolers!)

For Teachers

A new semester offers a perfect time to assess both how your connected learning efforts are going and how you can include parents in your class’s learning community. Are there opportunities for the students to show off their process—not just their product—to parents in a hands-on demo event? Can a working parent be a guest speaker in your classroom through tele-presence? If something is NOT engaging the students the way you hoped, can your students come up with some ideas about how to tweak the project or change the dynamic?

For the Whole Family

What will your “unplugged time” look like each week? And what is some media content that you can all enjoy together this year? How will you model thoughtful and balanced use of your own shiny new devices?

A new year is a great time to think about the opportunity to change what you didn’t like from the previous year…You may want to post your resolutions. Stay warm, and if you are already warm–I am officially envious!

Wish me luck, I hear we may be back to school tomorrow.

PS: Would you like informative posts like this in your inbox? Along with occasional updates and offers from Raising Digital Natives? Sign up here!

Photo Credit: Photo is by Daniela Reinsch